Pretty in pink


Love may be blind but lust is not. St Valentine was a Roman priest so very likely never had sex and didn't have to worry about his looks. But I do. With one eye on the calendar, I am trying to make myself look a little more attractive. Or at least to wake up in the morning with a hint of St Valentine's innocence about my brow instead of tiny, red piggy eyes and an alcoholic's complexion.

But this is almost the 21st century and to be more attractive than the next girl one is supposed to embark with composure and good grace on exercise regimes that would impress an SS general and face-painting techniques Monet would struggle to master. Times are hard.

When Marie-Antoinette wanted to dazzle she simply slipped off to her boudoir with its mother-of-pearl furniture and gold panelling and fussed around with her wig. And she drank champagne. "Champagne is the only wine that leaves a woman beautiful after drinking it," she said.

And it worked. She might have had to wait seven years (and an operation) for her dauphin to consummate their marriage but she bagged herself a dishy count and enthralled and enchanted virtually every man she met. "That child is a fresh bouquet of wild flowers," sighed Louis XV the first time he met her.

There is no decision to be made. In pursuit of beauty I am about to open a bottle of champagne. And in honour of the French queen's hopelessly lavish preferences and refusal to submit to current etiquette, I elect to gorge myself on rose champagne. So unfashionable, so delicious.

My cousin is getting ready to go out but happily submits to the bottle. Particularly as it is the most beautiful bottle she has ever seen. Its gorgeous hand-painted anemones follow a design by the art nouveau glass-maker Emile Galle and its name alone - Perrier-Jouet's Belle Epoque, 1989 vintage (£49.99) - promises glorious decadence. It delivers on taste, too; it is utterly delicious, with a delicate floral bouquet and a flavour that whispers of red fruits. Perhaps the only champagne for lovers.

Rose champagne is a remarkable drink, the only rose that, according to EU regulations, can be made by blending white wine with enough red to give it a salmon flush. Usually coloured wine is made by macerating the grapes and skins - rose for a shorter period than for red wine. It is a rarer creature than it should be.

My cousin is going to be late for her dinner party but still she tarries over the Belle Epoque. There are so many fine roses. Veuve Clicquot's 1990 Rose Reserve (£35.95) is a splendid drink with a deep colour and quite a lot of pinot noir (72 per cent). As Veuve Clicquot was established in 1772, maybe Marie-Antoinette herself sampled some of this grand marque's wonderful champagne before she was beheaded in 1793 for crimes of extravagance. At £24.99, Moet & Chandon's Brut Rose comes a rather cheaper third in the tasting states - elegantly dry, though with less fruit flavour.

I sigh with pleasure and recline on the couch - with glass - to do some more work on my looks. Frivolous a la Marie-Antoinette? Yes, perhaps, but essential if champagne really is going to keep me beautiful. If this works, I am considering having the drink fed intravenously. Then again, consuming copious quantities by mouth all year round will be infinitely more fun.

Long after my cousin has left, my latest love returns to find me still sipping serenely. His gaze moves from the empty bottles to my beatific expression.

"Pretty girls should never buy their own champagne," he says, "and plain girls should never drink it." What can he mean?

This article first appeared in the 12 February 1999 issue of the New Statesman, Kick out the image-makers